White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan sent a memo Feb. 28 detailing how the so-called "Tiger Team" would look at what might happen over the next three months of conflict, the senior administration official told NBC News.
Scenarios under discussion have included: Russia using chemical or biological weapons, Russia targeting U.S. convoys carrying weapons to Ukraine, a disruption to the global food supply, and the refugee crisis as millions of Ukrainians flee the country, the official said.
The creation of the team was first reported by the New York Times.
Sullivan's memo also established a second "strategy group" responsible for "a longer-term examination of major geo-political shifts" triggered by the invasion, the official said.
A chemical or biological attack would mark a dramatic escalation for a conflict in which Russia has increasingly turned its attacks on civilian areas. These types of weapons would also risk spilling over into neighboring NATO countries such as Poland — raising the question of whether the alliance would have to respond.
Russia is one of 193 countries to have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that bans their development, production or use.
U.S. officials have previously worried that Russia's claims Ukraine might be about to use chemical weapons could be the basis for it staging a "false-flag" attack — deploying the weapons and seeking to pin the blame on Kyiv.
As he left the White House on Wednesday to meet with allies in Europe, President Joe Biden told reporters he thought there was a “real threat” that Putin could use chemical weapons.
During the journey to Brussels Wednesday, Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One that they were maintaining a close eye on Russia’s rhetoric.
“The main thing that we’re looking at right now is the deliberate drumbeat of misinformation, propaganda and lies on this subject that has all the markers of a precursor to them actually using these weapons,” he said.
It's a tactic that's been used in Syria, where the Russia-backed regime has often sought to blame the rebels it's fighting when it has been accused of using chemical weapons against its own people.
Biden will discuss how to respond if Russia uses chemical or nuclear weapons when he meets other world leaders for a series of high-stakes summits in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday, Sullivan said Wednesday.
The president has already attended a gathering of NATO leaders, which was addressed remotely by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And later Biden will meet with the Group of Seven, a club of some of the world's top industrialized democracies.
The White House is also planning additional sanctions as well discussions with European leaders about reducing their dependence on Russian oil, Sullivan said.
Kristen Welker reported from Brussels, and Alexander Smith reported from London.